Hyde-Smith, Wicker, colleagues call for ban on databases for religious accommodations

Published 1:00 pm Thursday, March 24, 2022

U. S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, of Brookhaven, and Sen. Roger Wicker (both R-Miss.) announced their support Thursday for legislation that would federal agencies from sharing employees’ religious accommodation request information beyond the minimum necessary to process that request.

The Prohibiting Religious Exemption and Accommodations Databases Act (S.3902) was introduced in response to numerous federal agencies creating registries of religious exemption requests as they relate to Pres. Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal employees.

“Religious freedom is one of the great cornerstones of our country, and there shouldn’t be a need for legislation to rein in a White House administration that is too eager to register and track federal employees who request religious exemptions. Unfortunately, we do need legislation to keep the Biden administration from implementing this blatant big-government infringement on individual rights,” Hyde-Smith said.

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“I oppose the federal government creating databases of Americans who have sought religious accommodations. Government tracking of Americans based on their religious beliefs has disturbing implications to our First Amendment rights,” Wicker said. “It is vital Congress use its oversight abilities to ensure the federal government does not abuse its power or enable Americans to be targeted for exercising their rights to religious freedom.”

Federal Register notices reveal at least 19 federal agencies — including five cabinet-level agencies — have created or proposed tracking lists for religious exception requests from their employees. The agencies plan to collect religious affiliation, the reasons and support given for the requests, names, contact information, birth date, aliases, home address, contact and other identifying information — all of which would be shared among federal agencies.

Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) introduced the bill. Other co-sponsors include Senators Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.).

Hyde-Smith, Wicker and members of the Mississippi congressional delegation in February issued a letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget requesting information on the creation of these databases of federal employees who sought religious exemptions.